Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 09/30/08 at 09:52 PM ET
On Tuesday, the news came that Jeff O’Neill, once a Hurricanes hero, once a Hurricanes pariah, most recently a Hurricane hopeful, ended his quest for a return to the NHL. For now, anyway.
N&O Hurricanes beat writer Chip Alexander has a quick hit and Luke Decock has a much better take.
History may record Jeff O’Neill as an underachiever, never reaching the promise that made him the fifth overall pick in 1997. But for a few seasons with the Hurricanes, he was every bit that good—just not this fall.
According to the articles, O’Neill and the Hurricanes came to an agreement that it just wasn’t going to happen. I can say that after attending one preseason game and watching another, there is no doubt that O’Neill was a non-factor. He was hardly even visible. When Justin Williams went out with his Achilles injury, things looked good for #92, but he didn’t bring enough to the table to seize the opportunity.
I’ve criticized O’Neill to no end, but in a weird sort of way, I was rooting for him to make the team. He was, however, feeling the impact of being out of hockey completely last season. You can skate and work out all you want, but there is no substitute for game conditions and game speed.
This should once and for all end the Jeff O’Neill saga. This was probably a good thing that it ended like this. Now, our final memory of him will be of a guy trying to work his way back to the top of his game rather than of a lazy fat guy getting arrested for DUI twice.
For all the negative things I’ve said about O’Neill, he is still one of the main reasons that Carolina went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002. Most notable was his game-winner against Toronto in game three of the 2006 ECF. He had taken a puck to the right eye in the first period and the eye was completely swollen shut. He soldiered on and played with a horrible looking shiner and very limited vision out of that eye. Two hours later, he scored the game winner in overtime to give the Canes a 2-1 series lead. It was one of many defining moments in that playoff run.
O’Neill is still the all-time leading goal scorer for Carolina with 176 markers, if you count the Carolina years only. To date, Eric Staal has 124 and Rod Brind’Amour has 149. They will both pass him at some point in the 2009-10 season. Ron Francis only had 118 in the red and black.
Everything that needs to be said about Jeff O’Neill was very neatly summarized in two sentences by Luke Decock:
At his best, O’Neill imposed himself on the game. At his worst, he hid inside it.
Carolina’s camp roster is now down to 32 players with a few more cuts coming after Thursday’s exhibition and then some final cuts after Sunday’s final preseason game.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.